Jesus Navas, Sergio Aguero excel for Manchester City vs. Aston Villa
When Manchester City are in a poor run of form, they will always look forward to the visit of Aston Villa. Having lost three Premier League matches in a row, there will have been a sense of relief to see that the next opposition to visit the Etihad was the top flight's basement side. Saturday's 4-0 victory for Manuel Pellegrini's team, while emphatic, still showed signs of the fragility that comes with being in a negative frame of mind.
The first half was a non-event. City dominated possession, but slow passing and a lack of movement left Brad Guzan relatively untroubled in the Villa goal.
It took a lucky break for the hosts to find their confidence again. Yaya Toure's deflected effort would probably have been stopped by the goalkeeper, had it not flicked off Micah Richards and spun wide into the bottom corner. The former City defender will have been cursing his luck when his tackle ricocheted off Sergio Aguero and into the net for 2-0 minutes later.
At that point, there were signs of the Manchester City that the fans have come to know in recent seasons returning. The introduction of Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho added pace to the attack and there was dynamic movement and quick one-twos opening up the visiting back line.
After defeats to Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool, City needed a big result to get back on track. Their involvement in the title race still depends on others slipping up, but they've boosted their position in staying in the division's Champions League places.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Joe Hart, 6 -- The goalkeeper didn't put a foot wrong and produced an excellent save in the first half, but was largely a spectator as Aston Villa rarely threatened.
DF Bacary Sagna, 7 -- The Frenchman is going from strength to strength in his second season and has really settled into the role. He was excellent supporting Jesus Navas down the right flank and was good when called upon to defend.
DF Vincent Kompany, 7 -- Following a blip in defensive stability in the midweek 3-0 loss at Liverpool, the captain was keeping the back four marshaled and in position. There were a few great tackles and when in possession he got the game moving quickly.
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 6 -- While it looks good when it comes off, the Argentine still has a tendency to dive into challenges. He kept that side of his game under wraps for large spells, though slipped into old habits from time to time.
DF Gael Clichy, 7 -- Tirelessly up and down the left flank, Clichy was able to provide the width when David Silva drifted inside in the original 4-4-2 set-up. He delivered a number of excellent balls into the middle that were begging for a finish.
MF Yaya Toure, 7 -- The Ivorian was quietly effective in the middle of the pitch throughout the game. He pulled the strings and unlocked the floodgates early in the second half, albeit with a stroke of good fortune with the deflection.
MF Fernandinho, 7 -- The Brazilian was the legs of the midfield operation. While Toure sprayed the ball around the pitch, Fernandinho worked backwards and forwards to support both the defence and the attack. He was instrumental in City winning possession back high up the pitch on a number of occasions.
MF Jesus Navas, 8 -- This was perhaps one of his best performances in a City shirt. The winger gave the Villa defence several troubling crosses to deal with and ran the back four ragged, especially in the second half.
MF David Silva, 6 -- Whether the playmaker is carrying an injury or not, he's struggling for form at the moment. He couldn't find a Blue shirt throughout the first half, though did improve greatly after the break. If he isn't fully fit, then he needs to be taken out of the team until he's 100 percent.
FW Wilfried Bony, 5 -- By no means as bad as some fans will it make out, Bony didn't have a good afternoon. There were some moments where he held the ball well and showed glimpses of his form from his Swansea days, but they were too few and far between. Missed headers and poor touches were the story of his match. He's running out of time to prove he deserves a place in the squad.
FW Sergio Aguero, 8 -- The Argentine was the bright spark throughout the first half and looked the most likely to open the scoring in a below par period. After the break, he was on the money, with a stroke of luck for his first goal and a sublime, smashed finish for his second. A missed penalty was the only blot, but it was an otherwise fine display.
MF Raheem Sterling, 7 -- On for Bony in the 62nd minute. After missing some gilt-edged chances at Wembley, the Englishman will have been delighted to see the ball fall so kindly for him to slot home City's fourth. He added pace and directness that had been absent from the attack before his introduction.
FW Kelechi Iheanacho, 7 -- Replaced Silva in the 70th minute. The Nigerian's movement meant the Villa defence didn't know what to do with him. He was unlucky with a long-range effort and was fouled for the penalty.
MF Manu Garcia, NR -- Brought on for Toure towards the end of the match for some first team experience, Manu Garcia looked at home in the City team and in playing the ball through the midfield.
David Mooney is a writer and a radio journalist based in Manchester. He is also news editor on 104.9 Imagine FM. Twitter: @DavidMooney